Friday, May 18, 2018

End of the Year: State of the Home School

It's time for the annual year-end review of what we've done and where we are headed in schooling and in homeschooling for the summer.

First, a school update:

First grade was rough for E in terms of academics and behavior. He has always been very far ahead of his age-peers academically, so he struggled a lot with boredom in class (even though I sent work for him to complete during the school day). He has struggled a lot with social skills, as he is still very sensitive to teasing and will do just about anything to avoid teasing. He hasn't been in trouble as often this year, but he still struggles with impulsivity and his overactive sensory systems.  We are planning to have him return to his elementary school this fall...but it was a very narrow decision. If we hadn't had a recent move, I really might have chosen to stay home with him. Truthfully, with the direction that our county is heading, I may be staying home with him completely after next year.

At preschool, M was bumped from the 2 year old room to the young 3's a couple of months ago. He was really unhappy in the toddler room, and it showed. The change to young 3's was wonderful and exactly what he needed. He loves his teacher and really enjoys playing with his classmates. His teacher says that he really enjoys circle time and all of the different station activities that they have.  The children do have choice in how much they participate in certain activities, but she says he is usually front-and-center! We are planning to have him return to the same classroom, with the same teacher in the fall, even though he qualifies for special education through our local school system (which is free). I just do not think that our school system is the best place for him yet. He is coming so far in a more inclusive setting (versus a setting where ALL of the children have significant special needs, like the school system), that I think it is wiser to leave him exactly where he is and to continue with private therapies. M is graduating from OT next week :), as his skills are now at or near age level. His only serious delay is in speech/communication, with a second (mild) delay in adaptive skills. Hoping to really help him progress more this summer!

Home school update:

I went back to read where we were at the end of last year in home schooling, and found some surprises - we really did complete a lot of what we started - but because of life circumstances this fall (including surgery for me), we didn't accomplish as much as I thought. Although I remain staunchly Montessorian for early childhood education (and this will be how we approach learning with M), we are beginning to learn toward a more Classical approach for E. To break down what we'd like to accomplish, I thought I'd once again do a summary by subject.

Math:

Eli did finish Beast Academy 3A last summer and continued into 3B this year; out of curiosity, I also ended up ordering the 2A book for him to try. He did work through a good bit of level 2A, but it was too easy to hold his interest. He has completed most of 3B and he should be finishing it soon. We are still taking a break from Life of Fred for now, though I do plan to go back to incorporating it at some point. We are continuing to use "Making Friends with Numbers" as an occasional supplement, but are finding that Beast Academy is a great stand-alone math series for him at this point. I have already ordered BA 3C and 3D for Eli to work in this summer. He is excited to start working on division and with fractions. He frequently talks about how much he truly loves math, and it's fun to work with him and encourage him this way.

M has learned to count by rote to TEN :). Unfortunately, his pronunciation (because of the CP) is very difficult to understand, so we will continue to work on that. We are planning to continue working on helping him recognize the digits 0-9 (he does recognize several of them), recognize 3 or 4 simple shapes, and to begin tracing them. We will be working on one-to-one correspondence, sorting objects, ordering 3 or 4 objects by size, and simple jigsaw puzzles.

Reading:

Last summer, for reading/literacy, both boys participated in the library's summer reading project. This year, we will do the same. E will have to read 30 books on his level (I will be choosing some of them, and will let him at least half). M will have his 30 books read to him (probably multiple times), with a goal of increasing his attention span, sparking his imagination, and helping him grasp simple plots. We are also going to try to help M begin choosing some of his own books.  M is beginning to recognize letters, too, so we will work with him on recognizing and learning to trace some of his letters (particularly lower case). I am planning to write a couple of posts at the end of June that will (hopefully) be a recap of the books were for both boys.

Language Arts:

We have not, until now, really considered incorporating specific grammar lessons into our home school studies. E hasn't really been old enough (or interested enough) for a real grammar study, but I think that is changing. So, as a family, we are discussing pros and cons of an actual language arts study. The curriculum that currently tops our list is Michael Clay Thompson's, but we haven't yet made a decision about whether to go in this direction or not.

Writing:

E finished his Cursive Logic book last summer and began working through his Art of Cursive Logic book this year. He really enjoys both, and can sign his name very well now :). For practice, and to maintain his cursive, we will be using copywork this summer. I am  planning to use a variety of inspiration quotes, our church's statement of faith, and a few Bible verses for short, daily cursive practice.  E also has trouble keeping his words spaced, so we will concentrate on that, too.

M is learning to trace and to try to imitate shapes. We are going to really work on his tracing skills this summer...with the goal of teaching him to trace the letters of his first name :).  We are also going to continue to provide and encourage him with fine motor exercises (including working with Legos) to help him develop the coordination for tracing and writing.

Music:

We will continue to focus on piano for E. We stopped practicing when I got sick this fall, and I have been so focused on getting well and getting caught up at work (and on the recent move), that I truly haven't had him practice. I'm hoping he has not lost too many skills, but we will try to get back up to speed.

For M, we will continue working with him on singing (and enunciating) simple children's songs.  We may also play a few games with piano patterns, just to pique his interest.

Science:

We will stick with inquiry-based science this summer with an emphasis on biology and chemistry (we use Rebecca Keller's Level 1 Biology and Chemistry) and possibly some short forays (likely with trade books) into physics, marine biology, or meteorology.

History/Social Studies:

E is currently interested in US Presidents and in the learning the names of the states. E has been working on memorizing the Presidents in order, and can now recite from Washington to the first Roosevelt. We will continue to encourage him in both. I am hoping to introduce E to ancient cultures and mythologies, too. We ended up studying Stonehenge last year, and he loved it.  He has also developed a love for TV shows like Nova, Mysteries at the Museum, and Expedition Unknown...so we will encourage him to enjoy these, too. 

Art:

Daily projects for both kids. We are not using a specific curriculum, but I've already begun planning projects to help the kids learn different processes and to help them experiment with different mediums. We will also encourage Creative Galaxy for both kids.

Foreign Language:

We barely introduced Korean and Japanese to E last year before our laptop died. We were using Rosetta Stone for Korean, which was too hard for E (the laptop was very slow and didn't pick up his speech well). This year, I'm going to be a little more insistent about daily practice. We have started working on the Korean alphabet (Hangul), and will work on Hiragana (a Japanese writing system), too, as well as increasing his vocabulary in both languages. We are hoping to get E's aunt and uncle on board with helping him practice Japanese! E also has expressed a strong desire to learn Latin, which I think is a fabulous idea. We will be using the Minimus series and the Olim series to give him  a start, to see how he likes it.

Speech:

M isn't really ready to work on a foreign language, since his speech in English is so hard to understand. We are going to really working on enunciating certain sounds, with a list of words to emphasize each day. We are hoping to double (or triple) his current vocabulary, which stands at about 30-35 words, and to help him put two words together (which he has recently begun to do).

Practical Life:

M will continue to work on dressing/undressing, telling us when he needs to potty, putting away clothes and toys, and using his learning trays (pouring, scooping, tonging, ordering, etc). Both boys will work on developmentally appropriate chores, and both boys will work on cooking and baking in the kitchen. We are specifically going to try to help M understand how to scramble an egg, slicing soft foods (like banana) pour water/juice from a pitcher, and measure/stir ingredients. For E, we are going to have him continue to work on independently following a recipe and on baking (which he loves).

In addition, both boys will be involved in swim (E on swim team, and M in lessons again), and we will (hopefully) by practicing and exposing them to a few new sports and fun activities.  It's an ambitious list, so I know we won't likely be able to do it all...but it gives us a great starting point.






Monday, May 14, 2018

Two Words

It's amazing how much two words can change things!

In this case, these two words were M's first real attempt at a spontaneous sentence. It was a REAL attempt to communicate...and we are both thrilled and relieved.

In M's type of cerebral palsy, any/all muscles can be affected. While he still does have some mild mobility issues (not many!), his speech has been the area of his life where he has struggled the most. To date, he has learned several individual words (about 30) that he will repeat, but very few  (less than 20) are ones that he will use spontaneously and without prompting....and they aren't very clear to people who don't know him. He does know (and use) a few signs...but not many. He also knows a few Korean words that he uses from time to time, but our family is the only one who understands those. I've found myself as his interpreter...but even I don't often know what he's trying to say.  In turn, because he can't communicate, M is prone to frequent tantrums and (thankfully short) screaming fits.  Last week, I was near tears after an incident at the pediatrician's office when M had an ear infection. The physician's assistant was incredulous that M didn't have the ability to tell me what hurt or that his ear hurt at all.  She asked me about this repeatedly (ok...badgered me) and spent more time worrying about his speech/communication than whether he had an ear infection or not. I tried to remind her that he's been in speech therapy for most of his life, but - even with a pediatrician's office who has worked with him  his entire life - they expressed shock at how far behind his peers he is.  As his mom...this hurts. I felt very judged by their questions, even though they weren't trying to be judgmental.

One of the things that throws people off - including the doctor - is how observant M is and how quickly he catches on to new ideas - even though he's rarely been able to communicate those through speech. After the physician assistant's reaction, I felt terrible when I left the office...wondering if/when M would ever really talk to me - or other people - beyond saying "Hi" and "Bye".

And, until last week, he had never put two words together into a sentence that he came up with independently. He came up with "I hungee" (I'm hungry). I am SO EXCITED! Since then, he's repeated "I hungee" and  is starting to put other words together. We are so hopeful that he is about to have the speech explosion that is so common in toddlers!




Thursday, February 1, 2018

Children's Museum Visit

What a start to the new year!

We managed to do a few things that we wanted to do in January - including going to a children's museum on a make it/take it day!



We also enjoyed a lot of the other exhibits:


Building structures with nuts, bolts, and wood

Having fun with electric switches!

Learning about how the electric grid works

Learning that our body has measurable electrical current

Yay for clay!

A first try at stop motion

M decided E was having too much fun!

Enjoying a drum set solo :)
It was a long-promised trip for the kids and I'm glad we were finally able to make it happen :). A good time was had by all : ).



Monday, January 15, 2018

Lekotek

Throughout M's time in various therapies, I've had the most questions about our play sessions at Lekotek. So, since we actually had a session today, I thought it would be a great time to share.

Lekotek is a therapy choice offered to children, from newborn to age 8, with disabilities and chronic health issues, and was begun by the local Easter Seals club. It's an optional combination of the various therapies a child is already in. For M, the Lekotek therapist looks at all of his goals across all of his therapies - as well as any of his personal needs that aren't addressed in a therapy - and helps us find techniques, technology, and toys designed to help him meet his goals. One of the great parts about Lekotek is that they actually have a toy lending library, too, so developmental toys can be borrowed for a short time (and gently used toys we own can be donated!). 

When we first started a little more than a year and a half ago,  our sessions (and the toys we borrowed) were designed to try to simply get M moving - reaching, rolling, grabbing, dropping, and so on. Fun - and getting ANY type of purposeful movement - were our first goals.  At this point in his life, he was enduring a lot of physical/occupational therapy, which was really hard work for him. He had to put up with a lot of people stretching,  moving, and trying to teach him to use his body in ways that were difficult for him (and that he didn't understand). At Lekotek, the emphasis was (and is) on trying to help M have fun with the abilities he did have, while trying to encourage new skills. It was always nice to walk into one of these sessions and know that we would have fun! Our therapy sessions were twice per month at first, then became once per month as M began getting comfortable at Lekotek and making progress. And while this was a lot to juggle - with physical, occupational, speech and feeding therapy, weekly caseworker visits until M's adoption was final, frequent doctor/hospital appointments, and E's appointments and swim team commitments - it's been well worth the time. M took his first step, used his first ASL sign (more), and attempted his first words at Lekotek ( "more" and "again").

Currently, M's goals have changed dramatically from where we started - he is now moving very well (and is pretty quick!). His goals now include fine motor skills (using his hands and fingers), speech, balance (he falls a LOT), and self-confidence. M is almost always a very cautious child and we've had to be very firm about NOT doing things we know that he CAN do.

Today, when we all went to the session, the boys had a few minutes to play with the toys in the lobby while our therapist was finishing a session with another family. When she was ready for us, we went back to her playroom. As always, she had a stack of toys that she selected for us to try out. Since M is learning colors, and is very interested in them at the moment, she had a "My First Pegboard" for him to try.

My First Pegboard
He really seemed to like the idea of it, and was very willing to try to put the pegs in, but had difficulty manipulating the pieces. We brought this one home to work on. We will work with him on using his hands to put the pieces in, matching the colors,  and pronouncing the color words.

Next, we played with a plastic car set that had two ramps for the car to go down. Although we have an identical set at home, we decided to borrow this one anyway - the sets actually snap together, and this would give us a chance to see if he would play with more than one set at a time. This is primarily a toy to help M use his hands and his imagination.

Then, we played with a pizza topping game that was a little too difficult for him to play as a taking-turns type of game. But, the goal in the game is to balance the pieces on top of a wobbly "pizza", which was actually kind of hard to do. We decided to try the pizza game, with the goal of working on matching and balancing the game pieces (using his hands).

Next, we played with 'self-correcting' number puzzle pieces. These are really common, and we actually have a set of the ABCs and animal ones. Still, M loves numbers, and was really willing to play with this, so we decided to borrow it. It's another one for using his hands, but it's very different manipulating the cards versus manipulating hard pieces of plastic or wood.

Number Puzzle

We then got to try what ended up being MY favorite toy - a match and sort toy. It has a mat with twelve shadows, and it has toys that match the shadows.  M had to match the toy with the shadow. He did very well - and really liked it. It was funny to see how he and E interacted with this one,  and that's what made it my favorite. M would match the toy so that it looked like it was casting the shadow (i.e. standing up), while E would take the piece from him and match the toy to the shadow (laying down).  They drove each other a little crazy correcting one another, but it was a cute crazy.  This one is more for working on his cognitive skills, speech, and self confidence.
Match and Sort
Next, we tried a similar sorting toy, with small pieces that could be sorted by color, size, or shape. This was a definite win,  and one we will try to work on a lot before our next session (and one we will likely try to borrow more than once, while M is mastering it.  I was really excited to see how well M was able to manipulate the small-ish pieces of this one; this is another for his hands, speech, and self-confidence.

Finally, we did try a 6-pin indoor bowling game. We decided not to borrow this one, as we have a similar set at home (and because E doesn't handle this one well - we actually took his away because he gets too wild playing it).

While the boys were still playing with the toys, our therapist and I checked in the toys we borrowed last time. Since we elected not to borrow the bowling toy, we chose to re-check out a number- fishing game that we liked from last month.  Among the items we returned were a color sorting toy, a walk-on piano keyboard, a large play barn with animals, a farmer, and a tractor (we had the barn set for three solid months because M was obsessed with it), and a set of eight shape-sorting wooden boxes with different locks to manipulate.

M then got computer time - which he loves. The computer in the playroom is adapted to have a touch screen and a large one-button mouse, to make it easier for kids to use (especially kids with disabilities); they also have several tablets that are adapted to be even easier to use. M played a couple games on the desktop computer, with his therapist's help, and with us cheering him on. When he began to show less interest in the computer (but before he got tired of it), we went to the sensory/gross motor room.

The equipment changes from time-to-time in the gross motor room. Today, there was a large slide, a ball pit (complete with lots of plastic balls, of course), a small trampoline, a 3.5 foot tall dollhouse, a rice table (complete with a large variety of sand toys), a huge rocking/bouncy horse, a bubble machine with an adapted remote, and a projector/interactive whiteboard for playing games.  It's probably needless to say, but fun was had, chaos ensued, and plastic balls went flying everywhere.

While I know that it may sound like we just went and had fun playing and brought home a bunch of toys (and we did!), M accomplishes a lot more when we practice these skills this way, rather than just with therapy exercises - and it has definitely been helpful to have another expert helping us navigate through skills, goals, and therapies along the way!


Sunday, January 7, 2018

M is TALKING!

M has had major struggles with speech; we believe is solely because of his cerebral palsy. Every word he's learned to pronounce and use has been after a TON of practice, struggle, and therapy. As of last week, he was up to around 25 words that he would use (please, open, no, E, Appa, more, doggie, cat, cookie, apple). He put two words together for the first time this fall (Cookie, yum!).  He did it again a couple of times in December (more ball; eat apple, go night-night, cookie please; no, E!).

Then - last week - we started to notice a major change in his speech. He began to more accurately repeat and ask for words (especially color and number words). His two-word combinations began to increase slightly...and then he began popping out entire sentences!

P picked M up from daycare last Wednesday, and M ran up to him, showing him a stamp on  his hand and saying, "I got a ball!".  His speech was very clear - and it shocked the daycare teacher, who'd barely heard him say one or two words (other than NO) since she'd met him (several months ago).

The next day, was a repeat, except I picked M up from daycare, and he exclaimed, "I got a ball! Blue!", and he showed me a stamp of a blue football on his hand. On the way out, we stopped at the front desk, and he started pointing to objects and guessing colors. He pointed to the director's shirt and said "hey, purple!" (purple sounds like paw-pull). Then, he started with other colors (blue = "boo", green = "geen", red = "wed", yellow = "well woah"). He's not very accurate yet, but he's definitely getting there!  He's been keen on colors since, and has asked about them all weekend - from asking about them a the hardware store when we were completing/painting a project to bringing us toys to ask. His integrative therapist sent home color matching toys last month that he hadn't looked at (and wasn't really interested in) until today!

Today, though, he popped out a second new sentence that took us all by surprise...while I was folding laundry, I heard "I gotta go potty."  It was clear as day, and I even assumed that E said it, at first. When M repeated himself, we definitely went and tried to potty.  He's not trained yet; we've taken a more Montessori/learning (very laid back) approach because we aren't sure what kind of control he's capable of yet.  Still, he repeated it several times throughout the day. Each time, we were too late, but he's talking, excited about trying, and is becoming more aware!

I love hearing his little voice. I love hearing him communicate with us :). I'll also admit - I also love that people are starting to realize that he's much more capable and aware than they'd realized. I've been M's champion since the beginning...cheering him  on through so many hours of therapy. Telling people how smart and capable he is, even though they couldn't see what I did. And it's really a lot of fun to see them taken by surprise as he's starting to let them know what he can do!

Here's hoping that he continues to roll with a speech explosion!!

Monday, January 1, 2018

Happy New Year!

We made it to 2018!  E made it all the way until midnight this year (but barely!), while M clocked out around 10:30 (even after a second late nap in the afternoon).

2017 was definitely a weird year.

The absolute BEST part was finalizing M's adoption!!

The worst part was losing three beloved pets in one year: two dogs - Bear, age 16 (sudden, severe paralysis) and Rocky, age 17 (kidney failure); and the best horse on the planet, Reno - at age 37 (sudden heart failure).  I usually dedicate an entire post to one of our pets when they pass away, and I actually wrote one for Rocky, but I just haven't wanted to publish them yet.

While I'm not a big fan of New Year's Resolutions, I decided to make a few anyway :).

1) I will be trying to volunteer more time at our church. They are starting a new ministry for families currently fostering, and I'd like to help. While we are considering renewing our foster care license for this year, we are not 100% sure that we will foster again (except, perhaps, for respite care) until M and E are a couple years older, so this will give me a chance to help actively fostering families without actually fostering.

2) I am definitely hoping to potty train M this year.

I'm tossing around a few other ideas (including things like "read more") but haven't decided to officially add anything else to this short list yet.

In the meantime, before I bid adieu, I thought I'd add a short funny to this post.  M found one of our cat toys that he hadn't seen before today. It looks like a mink tail, and our cats love throwing it around. M clearly thought it was a cat's tail that came off...he was holding it and repeatedly saying "oh, no...cat" in the most worried tone. He even mimed putting it on his bottom when he was trying to tell us about it. He was a little miffed that we thought he was hilarious. He *did* go and look at our cats to make sure they were okay...we've been cracking up laughing at him all afternoon.

He's also coming to tattle on E when their play gets rough.  Most of what he says is completely unintelligible, except for E's name - but his tone and the way he points at E is an obvious tell - and it's all I can do not to giggle when he does it.






Saturday, December 30, 2017

All About M

I haven't been able to share much about M, since he was technically a foster child for his first two and a half years at home with us.

M was a teeny-tiny guy - almost a week old - when he was placed with us.


While I am not going to write a full post to give M's complete history (most of it is in our second timeline and our 'about us' page anyway), I do want to take a few minutes to talk about what he's doing now.

M has several diagnoses, the most noticeable of which are cerebral palsy and a vision impairment. We see a lot of "-ologists" and therapists. He is currently in speech, integrative, and occupational therapy (we dropped physical therapy after his second birthday, though may need to go back at some point). At this point, his integrative therapy is only in person once per month. He is somewhat behind in small motor skills, and in motor planning, so he may be in OT for a while. He is currently still learning to use a fork/spoon, to do wooden toddler puzzles ("peg" style), to use a crayon, and to use his hands to turn objects. It also looks like we will be in speech for a while...though he has made some truly impressive gains with his new speech therapist (he gained 9 months of developmental speech in the last 6 months), he is still a little more than a year behind his age peers in this area.  He's said a very few two word sentences, which has gotten us all very excited (Cookie, yum!,  eat more, open it, eat apple, bye school, and more fish). The amazing part is that even though he has a very limited vocabulary and can't say most words clearly, he CAN sing - and is really good at carrying a tune :). His vocabulary is currently around 20-25 words, but he is now mimicking words and learning new ones more rapidly.

M is currently receives some services through our state's early intervention program (and some from private therapists), but he's now at the age were we are discussing a transition plan to either early part-time preschool, early full-time preschool, or private services for when he turns 3. At this point, he's made so many gains that he will likely not qualify for early full-time preschool...though that is what would be most convenient. Of the other two options, we aren't sure what we would pick. M's current preschool/daycare used to be one of the best in the area - but an administration change happened recently, and we aren't sure if we are going to stay there. Once we know more - and make a decision - I'll post what went into the decision we make.

M is on-track cognitively and emotionally. As of now, he recognizes that letters and numbers are different, and is beginning to name a few of them (2, 5, 9, A, E, I). He adores all things Sesame Street, Pete the Cat, Mickey Mouse, and Daniel Tiger, and he is in love with Moana.  He likes watching movies and going to the movie theater - he has a great attention span for them.  He loves animals, too, and is now telling us animal sounds (though when he doesn't know an animal sound, he generally roars).

M did baby swim classes one-on-one this summer with one of the coaches from  E's swim team. While most of the time was spent just getting him comfortable moving and playing in the water, he did learn to kick his feet, and was starting to learn how to blow bubbles. During this time, M began to adore his swim teacher and really started trying to talk to her and to communicate better.  Swim really seemed to help  him with movement and gross motor planning. I wanted to continue lessons when fall came, but his teacher didn't have the availability. However, she does have time starting after the new year, so M will go back to swim soon - and I am really looking forward to it!


M's daycare, since the administration changed, stopped doing a lot of things that they used to do - including art projects (which used to happen daily, but now seem rare - I'm actually not sure if M is even given the opportunity to practice coloring during the day). So,  as usual, I'm taking this into my own hands and we're doing art (among other activities) at home. M is LOVING it :). I got a couple blank paint/sketch books for the boys to work in, and have had both of them doing some painting. Although I use real acrylic and/or watercolor for E, I had M use tempura paint, since it's a little easier to clean (but still allows him to mix colors). It's really nice to see M sit and really focus for 10-15 minutes at a time - and really enjoy himself, too. 

M is now at the age and stage of development where we are now starting to integrate more formal Montessori-style activities, too.  This is a new development, as M hasn't truly been ready for anything formal until very recently. M still has a long way to go, and a lot of obstacles to overcome (including the two year old tantrum phase!), but we seem to be starting to make a little bit of progress in the right direction.

For now, since this post is just for M (more coming on E later!), I thought I'd do an overview of some of M's favorites (since he doesn't interview well yet).

M's current favorites:

Favorite bed time lovey: a red and white crocheted afghan that my mother made when she was a kid

Favorite food: applesauce (especially pouches), pancakes, and broccoli

Favorite song: "My Name Is No" by Meghan Trainor and anything by the VeggieTales

Favorite movie: Moana

Favorite book: He actually doesn't have one. He used to love "Llama, Llama, Nighty-Night", but now he just loves hearing ANY story.

Favorite thing to do on playground: SLIDE!